To help preview this week's game, I reached out to Sean Yuille from Pride of Detroit and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "Is the Detroit Lions' offensive line really good? Aside from the Denver Broncos, they have given up very few sacks. The Browns have been good at generating pressure, but is it going to be a long day for Cleveland's pass rushers?"
Sean: "Generally speaking, the Lions' new-look offensive line (three new starters this year) has played pretty well this season. Their performance last week was a bit concerning, though. Matthew Stafford was sacked 5 times against the Packers, partly because his receivers weren't getting open. The offensive line is outstanding when Stafford releases the ball quickly, and they've done a pretty good job at times in the running game. However, when Calvin Johnson isn't on the field and defenses can focus their attention on Reggie Bush and not worry about the receivers, the O-line has struggled."
Chris: "Let's say that Calvin Johnson misses this week's game. Nate Burleson is already out. Who else is a potential wide receiver threat for the Lions? Has Ryan Broyles even been playing? I know it was just the preseason, but the Browns' defense helped Cleveland to a 17-0 lead among the first stringers a couple of months ago."
Sean: "Quite honestly, the Lions don't have any real weapons at wide receiver with their top guys out. Ryan Broyles has been playing, but his overall involvement has been a lot less than expected. Even if he does become more involved, he's not necessarily a deep threat, nor is Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree (who is still learning the playbook after signing last week), or Patrick Edwards. Really, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and the running backs (Bush and Joique Bell) are probably Stafford's best bets when throwing the ball if Johnson can't go this week."
Chris: "Between Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, and Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions have made a ton of investments up front; I almost think of this as a similar period to when they kept drafting first-round receivers. Each of those three defensive players seem to be good, but collectively, have they lived up to their hype, or have they been a bit of a letdown?"
Sean: "Suh and Fairley have certainly lived up to their hype as one of the top defensive tackle tandems. Suh is considered one of the top defensive players in all of the NFL right now, and although his numbers may not reflect that notion, he is putting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This has allowed Fairley to do the same since he has more room to operate. As for Ansah, he leads all rookies in sacks right now (just ahead of Barkevious Mingo), and he has come along a lot quicker than most expected. Collectively, the defensive line could be better at getting to the opposing quarterback on a more consistent basis, but these three individual players have been quite good this season."
Chris: "Last week, Travis Benjamin was a game-changer for the Browns on punt returns. Can you speak a little bit about the Lions' special teams, particularly about their coverage units and their return units? Have they given up or had any big returns this season?"
Sean: "The Lions' special teams were downright awful last season. This year, however, they have been much better with a new special teams coordinator and the addition of draft pick Sam Martin, who punts and kicks off. Martin is second in the NFL in punting right now, and the longest punt return the Lions have allowed only went for 11 yards. On kickoffs, the Lions have also done a pretty good job with their coverage.
The Lions' return units are not quite as good. Micheal Spurlock did return a punt 57 yards a couple weeks ago, but he's not much of a threat most of the time. Especially on kickoffs, Spurlock seems to struggle, and he often doesn't even make it back to the 20-yard line when he decides to take a kick out of the end zone."
Chris: "Tell us about one member of the Lions who Browns fans might not be aware of, but who could play a significant factor in the outcome of this Sunday's game."
Sean: "I'd go with the punter/kickoff specialist, Sam Martin. Especially if Calvin Johnson doesn't play, winning the field position battle on punts is going to be extremely important. He has been very valuable in flipping the field, and he has held guys like Devin Hester and Patrick Peterson in check already this season. Clearly, given what Benjamin has done on returns, Martin will need to be excellent again this week for the Lions."
Thanks again to Sean for taking the time to answer my questions.